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News > Archives & History > Memories of Claude Brown and the Carol Traditions at Bishops - By Richard Cock (1966/7O)

Memories of Claude Brown and the Carol Traditions at Bishops - By Richard Cock (1966/7O)

Reminiscences 7 - Claude Brown (CEB) and the choral tradition at Bishops

Image: Interior of chapel: West End. Showing original organ console
Image: Interior of chapel: West End. Showing original organ console

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By Richard Cock (1966/7O)

Paul Murray, current Bishops Archivist, asked me recently whether I could write an appreciation of Claude Brown, and I accepted with pleasure, because it was Doc Brown who first got me excited about music, and inspired me to take up the playing of the organ. I have dealt with this particular aspect in another article. In this article, I will do a broad survey of his work at Bishops. This article is the first of three about him.

He was known by several names: Claude, Bruno, Buster and Doc, but for the sake of consistency I have referred to him by his initials CEB.

 

Reminiscences 7 - Claude Brown (CEB) and the choral tradition at Bishops

Claude Engelfield Brown grew up in Worcestershire, having been born in Melton Mowbray in 1901. He became a chorister at Worcester Cathedral and worked under Sir Ivor Atkins, a much-loved figure, who was organist at Worcester from 1897 to 1950 - a long stint by any standards! CEB was a chorister there for four years, and was presumably an articled student/apprentice of some sort as he later became a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists in 1932, while teaching at Wellington College in Berkshire. Amazingly enough I came across one of his contemporaries on the staff at Wellington College, Robert Gordon Evans, when I taught at the Choir School in Chichester from 1973 to 1980. Evans, commonly known as RG, used to come into the staff room for a chat when our own cricket coach came in because he himself had been a professional cricketer who had played for England, and coached at Wellington in the early 1930s. He remembered CEB , even in those days , as an  eccentric character, who gave the impression of being a rather absent- minded, helpless person. In a way I think CEB cultivated this impression, and it was part of his mischievous nature. There is a story – one of many – about him standing at a public telephone booth (remember those days!?) disconsolately holding a tickey (remember THOSE days!!?) and saying “Yes (he started many sentences with a long drawn out Yers), can someone please help me?” He probably genuinely didn’t know how to use a public phone… too much trouble really.

He arrived at Bishops half-way through the third term in 1934, and his arrival coincided with the final year at school of my own father, Charles Cock. In CEB’s first report in the magazine he wrote of a performance of Lord God of Abraham from Elijah, “Cock is to be congratulated on such a good performance of a difficult piece” and I realised, on reading through the music reports in the magazine for that year, that Charles (my father) had sung in the small choir at CEB’s first Carol Service. 31 years later I sang in CEB’s final Carol Service. This forms a beautiful frame for the story of his life at Bishops, so the Advent Carol Service is a good place to start.

 

The Advent Carols

By the time I arrived at Bishops in 1962, the Advent Carol Service was a very well-established school event. Always packed to the doors, it was one of the highlights of the year, and the choir was well-drilled. It always merited special mention in the school magazines, and very often the carols were listed.

I think the scene had been set in 1934 with the arrival of the new organ for the Chapel from Rushworth and Dreaper, organ builders of Liverpool. It was (and still is) a good instrument, and the builders said “…it should create something of a sensation”. Well, apart from that, it provided a wonderful support for the singing in the Chapel, and must have been part of the attraction for CEB as the new Director of Music at the school. After the installation of the organ the Headmaster, Canon Birt, said “…we have a desire at Bishops to have the school, not only a house of religious influence, but also a centre for musical appreciation and enjoyment.” How prescient those words were.

 

Image: Interior of chapel: West End. Showing original organ console

That year must have been a difficult one for music at the school as KT Scovell, the previous director of music, had left and CEB could only arrive 2/3 of the way through the term, so Harry Stanton had been brought in for that interim period. When CEB arrived, Harry left to take up the post of organist at Grahamstown Cathedral. With three people running the department in one year, there was probably lots of catching up to be done.

By the end of 1935, CEB had settled in, the choir numbered about 40, and he produced the first of the Carol Services as he wanted them. A couple of years later they were already being broadcast. Amazing, really, when one thinks that radio had only started in the late 1920s. From the beginning the format was established, and it altered little over the years: standard Christmas Carols sung by the whole school, interspersed with a variety of carols sung by the choir alone, which varied from year to year. The service format was based on that devised by Archbishop Benson when Bishop of Truro for use in that Cathedral, and was later simplified and modified for use in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, in 1918, by its then  Dean, the Very Reverend Eric Milner-White. The format is still used there, and in fact has been accepted world-wide as a service of Nine Lessons and Carols.

As mentioned, there had been a small choir when CEB arrived, but this was enlarged over the years. The repertoire remained fairly limited, but significant occasions were the addition of carols by more contemporary composers, and later even some composed by boys at the school.

Colin Taylor had been a music master at Eton, and later moved to Stellenbosch. He was a great supporter of CEB, and Taylor’s carol The Three Ships was often sung. In fact I well remember this piece as having an amazing effect on me at one carol service. It was one of those revelatory moments when you realise that music has more than just notes. It can touch your soul! I think this was what CEB was all about; he somehow could share his own love of music with those under his care… and it was real care… and inspire them to love what he loved. This attitude has remained with me all of my life, and it has become part of my own philosophy and mission

The 1940s produced a whole range of new carols, and of particular note were those composed by John Joubert, John Rose, and Hedley Pocock whilst still at school. By the 1940s many boys were accompanying the services on the organ, and also conducting. As mentioned, the services were broadcast every year, and in 1956, the 21st anniversary of the Advent Carols, the broadcast was to the Union and the Federation of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland!

 

John Joubert as a young man. He composed several carols while still at school, that were sung at the Advent Carol Services.

This annual service was one of CEB’s great achievements and his pride and joy. He would preside in his Lambeth Doctoral robes, which were very splendid, and revel in the joy of making music with his choirs. Several records of the Advent Carol Service were made in the 1960s, and in those you can hear him speaking about the services himself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Front and back covers of the Advent Carol Service 1965 record with Richard Cock listed as a soloist.

 

The Chapel Choir

The Chapel Choir was really the core of CEB’s activities, and though their repertoire was relatively small, it was put to good use. There were regular Evensong services, and once or twice a term, music instead of a sermon. It is interesting to note the pieces which kept recurring over the years:

Blessed be the God and Father  Wesley
Hallelujah Chorus    Handel
How lovely are thy Dwellings        Brahms
The Wilderness     Wesley
The Sorrows of my heart   Boyce
Jesu, joy of man’s desiring      Bach
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace   Wesley 

and several others of course.

The appearance of Wesley’s music was natural, as he had been organist at both Hereford and Gloucester Cathedrals, and the choirs of those cathedrals were, along with Worcester Cathedral, the three choirs which made up the Three Choirs Festival, and doubtless CEB would have been very familiar with Wesley’s music: he loved performing it.

The Chapel choir would join with St George’s Cathedral choir for regular combined services, some of these under the auspices of the School of English Church Music, later to become the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM), which played a large part in the musical lives of several ODs including Timothy Farrell, Christian Ashley-Botha, Colin Yorke, and myself. Many times the Chapel choir sang in other churches around the peninsula: St Saviour’s Claremont, St Michael’s Observatory (where I later became organist and choirmaster), St Paul’s Rondebosch, and St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral, as well as some of the other city churches.

There are also touching references in the school magazine to visits to the chapel by the choir of the Athlone School for the Blind. They would sing spirituals in a very moving way.

Very often the Cape Guild of Organists would have their meetings in the chapel, and the choir would sing a couple of items at these also. In addition, several of the organ students at the school played at these meetings. Fortnightly organ recitals became a regular feature of College life. These happened after Evensong on Sunday, and were a chance to display what the organ and the organists could do. These fortnightly recitals later came to include piano performances too, and sometimes piano concertos would be played with the orchestral accompaniment played on the organ by CEB. Several distinguished names performed at these recitals:

Elsie Hall (pianist), who appeared on several occasions, had a son at the school; Harry Stanton, by now organist of Grahamstown Cathedral; Frank Reid (OD) also sang, and he became a regular donor to the music fund, which had by now been created.

Already appeals were being made by CEB in the rather public gaze of the school magazine for more time for music in the school. This about the Choral Society which had recently been formed: “That there is talent in the Society, and still more lying dormant in the school, is quite evident; but it is liable to be crushed by other activities of more material advantage.”

 In 1937 he wrote: “…Choral Society and Orchestra continue to exist in spite of tremendous difficulties”. One can only imagine what he was up against. And again in 1940:”….Choral Society and Orchestra are busy practising but their work is still terribly hampered by inadequate times for rehearsal.”

CEB was famous for carrying instruments for the boys because they did not want to be seen doing so. He set an example for all to see!

Colin Taylor, who was brought in as an external examiner had this to say: “A really high standard of choral singing, of which the Diocesan College shows great promise, can only be attained with the ungrudging and wholehearted cooperation of the entire staff. This has obviously already been given. Nevertheless, a plea is perhaps not entirely out of place, for the giving of even greater support, both active and passive. It is remarkable how much masters and senior boys can do to foster the idea that it is as great a privilege to belong to a choir or chorus as to a cricket or football team. Should fine choral work become a tradition at the Diocesan College, everyone will eventually be gainers. The assertion, often made by even those inclined to be antagonistic to the arts, that school boys and girls are 50% more receptive immediately after a singing period, is no idle one. Apart from the fact that singing quickens the pulse and stimulates the brain and raises the spirits, there are few who will not agree with William Byrd, who, in the 16th Century wrote The exercise of singing is delightful to Nature and good to preserve the health of Man”.

He goes on to say, “The highest praise is due to Mr. Claude Brown, FRCO, for the training and marshalling of his forces. Only those with experience of public-school music can fully realise the enormous amount of preparation a concert such as this entails. The Diocesan College is indeed lucky to have its music-making guided by such a competent hand”.

These were indeed wise words, and proved prophetic, as the music thrived under CEB, in spite of the difficulties.

In the 1940s there was a flourish of boys who took the music to new heights under CEB’s guiding hand. Joubert, Rose and Pocock (as previously mentioned), and later Andrew Porter created a sort of early musical Golden Age at Bishops, the memory of which lived on into my own days there, and the names, along with that of Timothy Farrell, were often quoted as good examples to strive towards. We all knew we were part of something exceptional, and part of a great and growing tradition of excellence in music at Bishops.

Photograph of Andrew Porter, who went on to become one of the foremost classical music critics of his time.

There were also many special occasions celebrated at Bishops where music played an important role. The Coronation of King George VI; the thanksgiving for the end of the war, where Elgar’s For the Fallen, and a new motet by John Joubert were performed; the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II;  as well as commemoration services, funerals and weddings. I well remember the funeral of Frank Reid, who had been such a great supporter of music at Bishops. We sang, amongst other things, the Russian Contakion for the Departed, which was performed several times over the years I was there, and which I have used myself on similar occasions at important funerals.

There are many references in the magazines to the maintenance of standards at the daily and weekly services in the chapel, and exhortations to the choir members not to forget that these were the mainstay of their existence as opposed to all the special occasions. The reports, written by the boys themselves, with short additions every now and then by CEB, are quite revealing about how they saw the choir fitting into the school routine, and how important a role it played in the life of the school, and the services in the chapel. These were the main occasions when the school came together. They were the morning assembly, and set the tone for the day.

I was lucky enough to be a part of this tradition, which really set me on my chosen path, and which became both my passion and my life.

RICHARD COCK (O66, PM67)

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